Such a long journey

Dec 23, 2017, 08:46 IST | Shunashir Sen

Three men with a passion for biking embarked on an epic trans-Siberian expedition and returned to tell their story

It isn't easy sitting in a jam-packed metropolis like Mumbai and imagining what it must have been like for three Indian bikers to embark on a trans-Siberian expedition. The mind conjures pictures of a barren wasteland with sparse pockets of inhabitation. The terrain is hostile, with large tracts of it suited more to horses with hooves than men on wheels. But the remote environs also hold a sense of wonder, and our mental image ends with rugged mountains wrapped by swirling winds, which leave gentle ripples on untouched lakes before whistling their way through coniferous trees.

(From left) Deepak Kamath, Sudhir Prasad and Dilip Bhat during the Trans-Siberian Odyssey. Pics Courtesy/trip360
(From left) Deepak Kamath, Sudhir Prasad and Dilip Bhat during the Trans-Siberian Odyssey. Pics Courtesy/trip360

None of this conjecturing, however, applies to Deepak Kamath, Sudhir Prasad and Dilip Bhat, the three said bikers. They travelled 15,600 km this summer, traversing six countries over 53 days, gaining first-hand experience about one of the world's most far-flung regions. The trio from Bengaluru first corresponded on the Internet in the beginning of the year after noticing each other's shared intention of biking in the region. Thereafter, they got in touch with sponsors, who helped them with transport and documentation, before they flew to Uzbekistan to begin what was named The Trans-Siberian Odyssey.

Deepak Kamath with locals in Mongolia
Deepak Kamath with locals in Mongolia

What they learnt in the process, says Kamath, is that the human race is more connected than ever before. "The world is no longer an isolated place," he tells us, adding, "I circumnavigated the globe [on a bike] in 1994 and for me, that was real adventure. There was hardly any connectivity with no people either for miles and miles, for example in Central Australia. Now, 23 years later, the world is definitely more connected. And that makes it a lot easier for people to travel."

Despite that, Kamath adds that the trio did get a taste of what it means to survive off the grid. He says, "See, we are now used to living in cities where we are asked to have mobile phones. But travelling through countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, leaving tier II cities and getting into villages that have no more than 30 to 40 people, you realise how in spite of their lives being basic, the locals enjoy it every bit. And the kind of hospitality they gave us with whatever they have was a tremendous eye-opener. The same happens in rural India too, of course. But with us, it happened time and again throughout our journey."

He narrates an example of how one morning in Kazakhstan, they asked for tea at a roadside store that doesn't serve it. The woman looking after the shop then almost forcefully invited them to her house and treated them to "a lavish spread of cookies, biscuits and plenty of tea, despite it being Ramazan in a Muslim country and us not understanding each other's language".

Those are the biggest takeaways the bikers have in terms of human interaction. But the landscape, too, left an indelible impression. Kamath talks of how they navigated the high-altitude Pamir Highway, part of the legendary Silk Route that's now saddled with landslides and avalanches. He also describes the Road of Bones, a place in eastern Siberia with a macabre history; Stalin had sent a number of prisoners there during Russia's Gold Rush, and the place gets its name from those unfortunate men who died on the road itself while mining the precious metal, their discarded bodies later reduced to skeletons.

The excitement in Kamath's voice is palpable when he recounts these stories, so much so that you can gauge the impact the expedition had on the 48-year-old. But, his adventures haven't come to an end even after this particular odyssey is now complete, because he says, "I recently received a WhatsApp message from someone that said, 'I have an adventure that you can't refuse.' So there was a challenge thrown at me and I accepted it. And now there's something really big coming up in 2018."

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